How the Media Gives Anti-LGBTs a Platform they Don’t Deserve

Doctor Who has a big “gay agenda!” That’s the cry of a handful of complaints made to the BBC this past year. Rather than the complaints themselves being worrying, though, it’s the media’s treatment of them that ‘s really the big problem here.

Ever since the science fiction show was revived in 2005, Doctor Who has prompted accusations of having a “homosexual agenda” because of its inclusive attitude to depicting characters of various sexual orientations. From omnisexual Jack Harkness to female (and cross-species) couple Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint, the series hasn’t been shy about same-sex kisses or relationships.

Now, a BBC Trust report for the period February 2013 to September 2014 shows that the BBC has received a handful of complaints about Doctor Who promoting a “homosexual agenda,” something that various news outlets have seen fit to report.

Says the Independent:

In the report three viewers complained that the show was “promoting homosexuality.” Back in August Doctor Who was criticised by some viewers for featuring a lesbian kiss and six people complained to Ofcom.

You read that right. Three people complained about the show’s so-called gay agenda. Just three. Why is this even newsworthy? Even factoring in past complaints, that’s just a fraction of the viewership of a show which regularly exceeds 8 million viewers. It is, by any stretch of the imagination, insignificant. And yet, every single time the BBC receives complaints like these, the media reports on them. Why?

I suspect it isn’t a specific desire to give a platform to people who are anti-LGBT — and indeed the Independent report does highlight complaints about other shows. Instead, the media is always looking for a story and this one offers what may be an irresistible combination: putting themes like gay rights together with a hit show like Doctor Who and the media is virtually guaranteed to eek out a few more readers.

I’m willing to grant that this kind of wrongheaded reporting is, while misguided, fairly innocuous when it comes to things like television programs and largely isn’t meant to be detrimental. However, it doesn’t stop with Doctor Who, or entertainment shows for that matter.

The media routinely attempts to offer “balance” on a variety of LGBT issues, including by reporting when a relatively unknown religious figure utters anti-LGBT comments, such as a story making the rounds about a preacher from Fife in Scotland who recently said that Scotland’s marriage equality law will have “Biblical consequences.” Firstly, who cares? He’s a figure of no consequence and is hardly offering a groundbreaking insight. Second, reporting on this serves to give these kinds of figures a platform that their comments don’t deserve. Of itself that’s harmful because it magnifies the reach of homophobia and transphobia. There’s an even more insidious side to this kind of sensationalism-seeking, though.

Schools choosing to adopt trans-inclusive policies, such as Minnesota school districts allowing trans athletes to play on teams that comport with their gender expression, can be dramatically hindered when news outlets allow anti-LGBT spokespeople a platform on which to spout untruths like the “bathroom bill” meme, especially when they don’t challenge them on the truth of their claims: for instance, the fact that law enforcement officials have confirmed that as far as they are aware there are no wide-scale abuses of trans friendly public accommodations laws despite anti-trans voices claiming that these laws put women and young girls in jeopardy.

The media has a responsibility to report fairly and accurately on contentious issues, and sometimes finding the balance can be difficult. However, in cases like this, that’s not what the problem is. The problem centers on the media giving a platform to anti-LGBT comments and views that are widely inaccurate or are of no consequence to the wider political discourse. Not only is that bad journalism, it’s corrosive to the civil rights fight and ultimately doesn’t benefit anyone except the media outlets who are hungry for sensational stories.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

84 comments

Margaret Goodman
Margaret G1 years ago

Elsa van Rhyn wrote, "Maybe if all you gay people out there stop making your sexual preferences so public you will stop getting all the wrong public attention."

What if someone wrote, "Maybe if all you straight people out there stop making your sexual preferences so public you will stop getting all the wrong public attention." It would sound ludicrous. You mean a boy and girl can't hold hands in public? A man can't have a picture of his wife and children on his desk at work?

SEND
Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa2 years ago

Thank you

SEND
Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa2 years ago

Thank you

SEND
Jackson S.
Jackson S2 years ago

There's a perception that every issue has only two sides and that in the interest of fairness both sides must be equally represented, no matter how small or obviously inaccurate one side is. People are entitled to free speech, but that doesn't mean any non-legal entity is required to provide them a forum... when they *are* given a forum, it leads to people being confused into thinking both sides are valid.

And thank you for explicitly including transgender legislation in this, which is often left out when people talk about LGBT issues!

SEND
Winn Adams
Winn A2 years ago

Noted

SEND
Rhonda B.
Rhonda B2 years ago

thank you

SEND
ERIKA SOMLAI
ERIKA SOMLAI2 years ago

noted

SEND
Magdalena J.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you!

SEND
Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

SEND
Luis L.
Luis, L2 years ago

It's called "manufacturing consent.' It is done just like in the example used in the article. Three people call to complain but the public is not made aware of this little fact. So the news story that we here is that it is a major controversy and that justifies the air time. This is how we were sold the Iraq War and the invasion of Afghanistan. Weren't we supposed to save women and girls there? Changing the definitions and having control of the message does matter. This is why we are currently debating whether torture works or not when the real discussion should be why we are not indicting Bush and Cheney for war crimes. If I had the money I would start my own news network.

SEND